Exclusive: 'BJP will win the biggest-ever mandate in MP', says Chouhan

'Not concerned who is the CM face', he says

PTI09_04_2023_000017B Embracing traditions: Chouhan offering prayers at the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain on September 4 | PTI

Q/ Your programmes for women and girl children are being talked about. What is the reason for this focus?

A/ The focus on women empowerment is not a recent one. When I first became chief minister (in November 2005), we started the Ladli Laxmi scheme (monetary assistance for educating girls) in 2006. Today, 46 lakh girls are ladli laxmi.

Earlier, the sex ratio here was skewed―916 girls to 1,000 boys. Girls were killed in the womb as they were considered a burden. In our village, a boy’s birth was celebrated; if it was a girl, women refused to see her face.

I knew since [childhood] that something should be done. When I was in a position to do something, we came out with the Ladli Laxmi scheme. We pay college fees of all daughters. When she turns 21, she is given [a lump sum]. Dowry was a major issue, so we started the very popular Kanya Vivah scheme and started organising mass marriages.

Q/ Have these schemes made an impact?

A/ Madhya Pradesh was the first state to give 50 per cent reservation to women in local body polls. The impact was visible―more than half the mayors, sarpanchs and municipal councillors were women. Those who used to wear veils began running the government.

For the first time, we gave 30 per cent reservation to women in police recruitment. There was a hue and cry that they would not be able to handle situations and crime will increase. But I went ahead with the reservation. We now see the girls in uniform ably handling law-and-order situations.

We also gave 50 per cent reservation for women in teacher recruitment. We also gave rebate for properties registered in the name of women. The stamp duty is 1 per cent for women, against 3 per cent for men. Now, 45 per cent of all properties bought in Madhya Pradesh [are registered] in the name of women.

Q/ You have pushed for reservations for women in the state. What if the Centre revives the women’s reservation bill?

A/ We will go by what the party decides.

Q/ You have been making many announcements in run-up to the polls. Where do you place yourself in the ‘freebies vs welfarism’ debate?

A/ Women empowerment is not revdi (freebies). I want to see the day when the sex ratio is 1,000:1,000. This is a big social change, a social revolution.

Secondly, aren’t our resources not for women? Women also have a right to live and be happy, and we have given them those rights. We have signed a memorandum of understanding where toll tax will be collected by women self-help groups. If they collect Rs1 lakh, they would get Rs30,000. If they collect Rs1 crore, they would get Rs30 lakh. Now 15 lakh didis (self-help group members) have become millionaires in Madhya Pradesh.

Path to victory?: Chouhan during a road show in Morena district on September 8 | PTI Path to victory?: Chouhan during a road show in Morena district on September 8 | PTI

Q/ Your government has been implementing cradle-to-grave welfare schemes. But will they find traction in the polls? Your party could not get majority last time, so how confident are you this time?

A/ Last time, there was talk about farm loan waivers and it had an impact. But we got more votes. We got one lakh votes more than [the Congress], but fell short by three or four seats. Even the Congress did not get majority.

Sometimes, for a short period, people get attracted to promises like ‘Loan waivers in 10 days, or change the CM’. People thought this will be done.

Q/ You are the longest-serving BJP chief minister. But this time, five Jan Ashirwad Yatras are being carried out. There is talk of collective leadership.

A/ Why shouldn’t that happen? In Uttar Pradesh, there was collective leadership. Leaders carried out five yatras. There were five yatras in Karnataka. What is wrong in this?

Q/ Won’t that cause confusion among people about who is the chief ministerial face?

A/ We are not concerned about who is the face. Our job is to serve people, and be a disciplined party worker to fulfil duties.

Q/ The Congress appears to be following your script by adopting a soft hindutva approach.

A/ There has been a big change in the country’s politics. Earlier, calling oneself Hindu was considered a crime; it was said to be communal or narrow-minded. Some called Lord Ram imaginary. People used to make fun of Ram Setu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the agenda of Indian politics. Our traditions, culture, values, great personalities and faith have been brought on to the centre stage.

Which other prime minister has ever gifted the Gita (to world leaders)? Yoga has been spread across the world. This is a big change. The Congress is now following it. Congress leaders think that if they do not follow it, they would lose the elections. They now chant Ram’s name and Hanuman Chalisa. It is a matter of happiness for us.

Q/ Many Congressmen had joined the BJP; they may now seek tickets. Will this upset your committed cadres?

A/ Our cadres are not insecure. All of them work together. It is human nature [to want tickets to contest polls]. Even many [old-timers] within the BJP may want to contest elections, which is natural. We talk to all claimants.

Q/ The opposition is levelling charges of corruption against your government in the same manner they did in Karnataka.

A/ The Congress has stooped low. They are spreading filth. They thought they can form the government. Now, look at the huge upsurge in our favour. Look at the huge turnouts at my rallies.

Q/ Will it be a clear mandate?

A/ It will not be right to quote a figure. But it will be the biggest-ever mandate for the BJP in the state.

Q/ How do you look at the challenge from the INDIA alliance at the state and national levels?

A/ There is no challenge. They don’t have a common ideology. They don’t have a common minimum programme. All those who used to fight among themselves have come together.

They are not together for some ideals or ideas. It is because of two reasons. One, the BJP under Modi is witnessing a massive flood of support in its favour. When there is a flood, all creatures―even those opposed to each other―climb a tree to save themselves. They don’t fight with each other while saving themselves.

Secondly, Modi has said, ‘Na khaunga, na khane doonga (I will not be corrupt, nor will I let anyone be corrupt).’ Earlier, politicians were never held accountable for corruption. Even if there was a probe, nothing came of it. Now they are afraid. This fear is prompting them to come together. They want to get rid of the fear. Their alliance is not for a greater public cause.

Q/ You had the image of being an approachable and soft leader. But now we hear of bulldozer politics.

A/ Madhya Pradesh was plagued by dacoits when I first came to power. There were even films based on, and named after, the Chambal region (known for dacoits). People were shot dead for no reason. No one dared venture out after 5pm. When I took over as chief minister, I said, “Either Shivraj or the dacoits will survive in the state.”

Within six months, all dacoits surrendered or were eliminated. We demolished the SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) network and Naxalism. During the Congress regime, Naxals beheaded a serving minister in the Digvijaya Singh government. Where strict action was needed, we were strict.

Shall we spare someone who misbehaves with our daughters? We saw that people who committed rapes would do it again after being released from jail. Unless we break them financially, they will not learn. That is why we have tried to give the harshest punishment.

Q/ How do you look at the ‘one nation, one poll’ concept?

A/ It is our party’s policy. We follow what they decide. Holding elections at different times takes a lot of money and time. I have been saying that holding elections every few months is not good for the country.

Q/ The Justice Rohini Commission has given its report on graded reservation for sub-categories in Other Backward Classes. Your views?

A/ Whatever the Centre decides, we will follow it. We are associated with the party, so there is no individual view.

Q/ The Congress has promised to bring the Karnataka model here.

A/ No model, except the development model, will work. The Congress doesn’t want to do anything; it only wants votes. But whatever we do, we do after proper planning and thought, keeping in mind the financial situation.

Our financial condition is very good. We are a revenue-surplus state. I have never held back on capital expenditure. Roads are being built, electricity lines are being laid, irrigation projects are being constructed, a global skill park is being readied, metro rails are ready in Bhopal and Indore. Investments are coming. We are opening schools and medical colleges. We are also doing public welfare work. We maintain a balance.

Q/ What are main factors in the upcoming elections?

A/ There are only two factors. Public welfare and development. In welfare, we look after women, farmers, children, youth, education, employment. So, development and welfare are our agenda and factors in the elections.

Q/ How do you look at the Lok Sabha polls?

A/ We got 28 seats last time. This time, we will get all 29 seats in the state.

Q/ Some of the BJP leaders are also joining the Congress.

A/ Those who are clear that they will not get tickets from the BJP are switching sides. The party decides on tickets going by the situation in each seat. 

Q/ You were seen as a leader who could do well in national politics. Can one see you as PM candidate at some point?

A/ No, no. I am an ordinary party worker. The party decides my role.